Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc

The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc is the largest and most complex rune row of the four major systems. Unfortunately it is also poorly understood in an esoteric sense, due to the lack of runestone inscriptions and other magickal uses of the system. However the Anglo-Saxon rune poem survives, albeit in an altered Christianized form, like some parts of the Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems.

There are in the Anglo-Saxon system, in addition to the 24 runes present in the Elder Futhark, several extra runes to account for new sounds or concepts encountered by the Angles and Saxons as they had colonized Britain. In doing do they came into contact with Britons and Celts, and absorbed some of their linguistic and cultural influences. These last few uniquely Anglo-Saxon runes have also been associated with the Vanir, rather than with Odin, and the Vanir in general have often been regarded as a native European pantheon of gods that had been the dominant religion in Northern Europe before the Indo-European migrations of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The fact that the Indo-European Celts share a number of similar deities with the Vanir system, and were said to be of similar stock to the Goths and Sarmatians, indicates that the beliefs of the proto-Europeans (Iberians, Britons, and perhaps even Finno-Ugric peoples) had already been absorbed by them, to be further “Germanicized” by the Saxon invasions of England.

These runes are often believed to have been representative of a mix of Aesic and Vanic lore concepts. The Anglo-Saxon runes vibrate with the sense of nature perhaps to a greater extent than the stone-carved Elder and Younger runes of colder, harsher climates in Scandinavia (although these were also found as far south as Germany). The organic nature and Celtic influence in Anglo-Saxon art (and the poem) also indicates a celebration of life and nature common to the Vanic system, without some of the grimness of the Aesir-centered Lore of the North. Below are some possible explanations of their meanings, drawing on the lore of the other 3 runic systems (which share several of the same runes), along with text and translation of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem.


Feoh

Feoh byþ frofur fira gehwylcum;
sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan
gif he wile for drihtne domes hleotan.


Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet must every man bestow it freely,
if he wish to gain honor in the sight of the Lord.


It’s fitting that a piece on Vanic runes starts with fertility, wealth, sharing, and the pleasures of life. Feoh is all of those things. The word itself means “cattle,” but unlike the animal sense that Ur brings, it is cattle as a means of acquiring and measuring wealth, sustenance and prestige. The poem talks about the comfort it brings; the Vanir are very much about enjoying the pleasures of life and the world. However, just as it is a sorrow to lack, it is a sorrow not to share what one has freely. Frey does not hoard His light; Freyja does not partition her love-making to only the rich or famous. Gifting is a vital part of any Vanic ethos, as gyfu will show. While "the Lord" sounds like a Christian interpolation, it may just as easily refer to Frey, the chief god of the Vanir. The name Frey is actually a title meaning "Lord", just as Freyja means "lady". Frey's real name, so far as the lore indicates, was probably Ing, which is the origin of the Ing or Ingwaz rune in both this system and the Elder Futhark.


Ur

Ur byþ anmod ond oferhyrned,
felafrecne deor, feohteþ mid hornum
mære morstapa; þæt is modig wuht.


The aurochs is proud and has great horns;
it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;
a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

The aurochs (uruz, the root of “Ur”) was an awesome animal, the Old World equivalent of the North American great bison, and would have been a familiar animal to the pre-Aesir Vanic cultus as well as the Aesir-centric Indo-Europeans. While the major Vanic animal was the boar, the aurochs was just as important, and may have been replaced by the boar as the former died out. Certainly, the poem’s description fits the nature of the Vanir-at-war – proud, ruthless, mettlesome, and at home in the wild. Note, too, the ability of Frey to fight just as well with an antler/horn as he did with a sword. The aurochs is a symbol of strength, of power, of self-confidence; certainly all the Vanir we know of exude those traits in their own individual ways.


Thorn

Ðorn byþ ðearle scearp; ðegna gehwylcum
anfeng ys yfyl, ungemetum reþe
manna gehwelcum, ðe him mid resteð.


The thorn is exceedingly sharp,
an evil thing for any knight to touch,
uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

The thorn is severely sharp – for any thane to seize it is hurtful.” Obviously, the poem is fairly straightfoward: thorns and briars hurt! But what does that mean in a Vanic context? First, it is thought that the blackberry, a fruit normally found wild in bramble and briar patches, is sacred to certain Vanir women, notably Holda and Nerthus, who are certainly said to be “uncommonly severe” to those who follow them. It is a warning that all is not as it seems when you deal with the Vanir. They are just as much concerned with death as with the continuation of life, especially the older generations. In an Aesir-centric sense, Thorn clearly refers to the might and clearing capability of Thor's hammer, and his foes the giants (Jotuns), also known as thurses. But you knew that already from the Elder and Younger Futhark meanings, right?


Ós

Os byþ ordfruma ælere spræce,
wisdomes wraþu ond witena frofur
and eorla gehwam eadnys ond tohiht.


The mouth is the source of all language,
a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,
a blessing and a joy to every knight.

The actual translation here is “The God(s) is the source of all language …,” Ós being the word for a god or the divine in Old English. Traditionally, the god in question is Oðin; especially in his mysterious incarnation as Ódr, husband of Freyja. That is not to say that the other gods, including actual Vanir, are not wise – after all, in the poem Hrafnagaldr Oðin specifically states that “the Vanir know.” They certainly know battle-magic, which would be a “blessing and joy” to warriors; they know seiðr, which Oðin learned from Freyja, and can be used to prophesy and divine, bringing wisdom and comfort to the wise; and they know the flows of Wyrd, the source of everything, including language.


Rad


Rad byþ on recyde rinca gehwylcum
sefte ond swiþhwæt, ðamðe sitteþ on ufan
meare mægenheardum ofer milpaþas.


Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors
and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads
on the back of a stout horse.

This rune, though the poem is about riding, is less about the mode of transportation and more about the journey itself. Certainly, the horse is sacred to the Vanir, specifically Frey, but Rad is not the Horse rune (that would be Eh, or Ehwaz, which also symbolizes marriage and partnership). Rad, the rune of journeying, is twofold, as the poem states – there is an inward, “easy” route, and the harder outward one. As any spiritworker who does regular journeying will tell you, stepping out of your inner worlds is extremely dangerous. The possibilities of the journey itself is also twofold. There is the meaning of spiritual journeys, seiðr, and pathwalking, and then something that is hinted at in the poem itself – the dichotomy of slander, empty bragging and gossip, and the “high road” of frith-building, true honor and respect, which certainly requires much courage.


Cen


Cen byþ cwicera gehwam cuþ on fyre
blac ond beorhtlic, byrneþ oftust
ðær hi æþelingas inne restaþ.


The torch is known to every living man 
by its pale, bright flame;
it always burns where princes sit within.

This rune is clearly derived from the Elder Furhark rune Kenaz (“torch”). Oddly it's an upside-down form of its Younger Futhark equivalent Kaun, perhaps indicating a lowered torch to light a fire in a great hall, illuminating the walls and marking clear shadows from the "princes" there. Light is an interesting thing. The presence of light immediately creates a dichotomy between what is illuminated and what is shadowed – darkness only exists as a discernible entity in the presence of light. So is it with the Vanir – They are at once Light and Dark, some more of one than the other, but all in balance. Frey brings Light to the Worlds, but goes into Darkness every year; Njord is calm and even-mannered, but he killed Midir in anger; Nerthus brings peace during Her procession, but demands a yearly sacrifice. Gerda is a dark, reserved Jotun, but Frey fell in love with the Light inside her, and they balance both the Light and Dark within each other. Freyja is the sacred sex-bomb who brings joy to people through lovemaking, but also the warrior queen that savagely defends her own; Gullveig is the battle-witch, and the joy of gold and wealth.


Gyfu


Gyfu gumena byþ gleng and herenys,
wraþu and wyrþscype and wræcna gehwam
ar and ætwist, ðe byþ oþra leas.


Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one’s dignity;
it furnishes help and subsistence
to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

A gift for a gift” says Hár (Oðin) in the Hávamál, and reciprocity is an important Norse value. But there are strictures on the type of gift, if you wish to gift in a truly Nordic style – it must be given willingly, joyfully; no stinginess or reluctance. Frey does not go grumbling each year, resentful of the gift of his life to sustain the Nine Worlds – He goes willingly, happily, aroused as if to his honeymoon, running with passion into the cold embrace of Death. Nerthus’ servants did not complain; they gave of themselves willingly and gladly, throwing themselves into the black void of her embrace for one chance to see her as she is. Sif and Sigyn do not care for their husbands and families because of any meekness or coercion – it is their gift to the men they love. A gift is not truly a gift if it is not given with all your being behind it; it is simply a payment or a tribute.



Wynn


Wenne bruceþ, ðe can weana lyt
sares and sorge and him sylfa hæfþ
blæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht.


Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, 
sorrow nor anxiety, and has for himself 
happiness and prosperity and a good enough house.

Wynn (Wunjo) is probably one of the most Vanic of runes – it speaks of joy, prosperity, a good home, and self-contentment. It is the rune of frith, of peace-making, because there is no happiness in war, and the Vanir understand that intimately. While certainly not pacifists or poor fighters (They were winning, after all, before they offered truce to the Aesir), the Vanir realise that happiness and prosperity, good homes and bliss cannot be found on the battlefield or in the destructions of war; they can only be cultivated in peace and tolerance.



Hægl


Hægl byþ hwitust corna; hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte,
wealcaþ hit windes scura; weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan.


Hail is the whitest of grain; it is whirled from the vault of heaven
and is tossed about by gusts of wind; and then it melts into water.

The Anglo-Saxon shape of Hægl is that of a steep-roofed house with high posts or chimneys. I feel this is Holda’s rune, as she is intimately connected with snow and winter in folklore; it can also be associated with Skadi and Ullr, who are the gods of the woods and wilderness, especially the snowy mountains of Norway and Sweden (and Colorado). Giantess Skadi is also associated with snow and skiing, and is even rumored to have invented the sport. The poem doesn’t seem to make much sense other than as a simple description of how frozen water acts, until one looks closer, and realizes that it is an allegory for life – we are as seeds tossed unto the earth from the “heavens,” yet even during our lives we are subject to the gusts of “wind” that are caused by our wyrd and orløg as well as the decisions we make. And when our time has come, we “melt” into the earth to nourish the next generation of seeds.


Nyd


Nyd byþ nearu on breostan; weorþeþ hi þeah oft niþa bearnum
to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre, gif hi his hlystaþ æror.


[Need] is oppressive to the heart; yet often it proves a source 
of help and salvation to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.

Need, or necessity, has long been toted as the “mother of invention.” And it is true – nothing new would be created were there not some need for it, even if that need is one that does not seem “oppressive” – for instance, many people have a need to experience beauty, but the lack of it does not immediately endanger their lives (whether or not it can cause long-term damage is a debate for another time). The Vanir understand need – Frey’s death fulfills the need of recharging the Nine Worlds to keep them alive; Njord has an irrevocable need to be near the ocean, as Skadi does the mountains. Nerthus and Sigyn understand duty, as do the three hostages to the Aesir; in fact, there are possibly no beings in the Nine Worlds that are more conscious of duty than the Vanir, with the exception of Hela.


Is

Is byþ ofereald, ungemetum slidor,
glisnaþ glæshluttur gimmum gelicust,
flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne.


Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery;
it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;
it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

Ice is the rune of winter, of stasis, of slowing down and looking within. The poem describes the many qualities of ice, but notably only the ice that is usually called black ice or clear ice, as opposed to rime, the solid white ice that is named for the frost thurses. Black ice is indeed immeasurably slippery, and is a great danger to those who are not paying attention and moving without caution. While there is no specifically Vanic trait about this rune, all the Vanir know well the value of mindfulness and taking time to reflect so that one does not slip up. And when we stop and look around us, we find that the ice that was once a danger unheeded is now a thing of great beauty.



Ger

Ger byþ gumena hiht, ðonne God læteþ,
halig heofones cyning, hrusan syllan
beorhte bleda beornum ond ðearfum.


Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven,
suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits
for rich and poor alike.

This rune is derived from Jera, the Elder rune of the year-end and harvest. Harvest and cycles are the epitome of the Vanic way. That which was sown is reaped, the trees give forth their yearly abundance, and all are blessed with the bounty of nature. Harvest was a three month-long process, starting first with the grains and nuts and then the autumn fruits and vegetables; oftentimes, those three months were the most joyous in the community, because all the year’s hard work had finally come to fruition and they were (hopefully) prepared for another harsh winter. There were feasts and blóts all through the period of Lammas to Winterfylleth: as each harvest came in, the people would give of it to the gods in thanks for their blessings. Frey is the one most associated with this time, though all the Vanir work to bring forth fertility and bounty in the Nine Worlds.


Eoh

Eoh byþ utan unsmeþe treow,
heard hrusan fæst, hyrde fyres,
wyrtrumun underwreþyd, wyn on eþle.


The yew is a tree with rough bark,
hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots,
a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.

While most Asatruars and even most academics view the World Tree, Yggdrasil, as being an ash tree, there may be some merit in its being a yew. As such, Eoh speaks to one of the Nine Worlds and the Tree themselves, as Rad speaks of journeying. The line about flame is especially interesting, as there is no tale we know of that tells of the origin of the Tree itself, but the saga of Northern mythology starts and ends in fire, and the yew is a highly flammable tree because of its oils. Also, the root of the World Tree is Helheim – all life is supported by death, something the Vanir know well.


Peorð

Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter
wlancum [on middum], ðar wigan sittaþ
on beorsele bliþe ætsomne.


Peorth [luck, gambling] is a source of recreation and amusement 
to the great, where warriors sit 
blithely together in the banqueting-hall.

Luck is very important in the Northern Tradition. Called hamingja in Norse, it is seen as a driving force in a person’s individuality in and of itself, rather than some random chance. Some conceptualizations of it portray it as a figure similar to the fetch/fylgja or dísir – a female guardian figure responsible for the person’s well-being or happiness. However, unlike modern ideas of luck, there are specific things about the hamingja that need to be noted. One is born with a certain amount of it, and can either lose it or make it grow, but once lost or wasted, it cannot be regained. However, Peorð is also the rune of Wyrd, and the glyph can be seen as the Well of Urð (though on its side).



Eolh

Eolh-secg eard hæfþ oftust on fenne
wexeð on wature, wundaþ grimme,
blode breneð beorna gehwylcne
ðe him ænigne onfeng gedeþ.


The Elk-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh;
it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound,
covering with blood every warrior 

who dares himself touch it.

Eolh is the rune of holiness, of taboo, of the sanctuary; the Old English word wíh is what this rune embodies. Eolh itself, though apparently signifying the antlers of the Elk, is also similar to the Old English word for temple, ealh, and the poem reminds of the dangers of violating the sacred spaces carelessly or with malice. It is worth noting that the description the poem gives of where the elk-sedge is similar to Tacitus’ account of Nerthus’ holy grove, the Vane who is most concerned with wíh.



Sigel

Sigel semannum symble biþ on hihte,
ðonne hi hine feriaþ ofer fisces beþ,
oþ hi brimhengest bringeþ to lande.


The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers
when they journey away over the fishes’ bath,
until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

Sunna is well-loved in all the Nine Worlds (except perhaps Niflheim), but especially in Vanaheim, because she is the one that causes all the crops to grow. However, the poem speaks of sailing, which is the place of Njord. And indeed, the sun is a vital resource in sailing, both as a compass-guide and by the light it offers, light which is often rare in northern climes, and as such, is preciously revered by farmers and sailors alike, both of which the Vanir are.



Tiw

Tir biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel
wiþ æþelingas; a biþ on færylde
ofer nihta genipu, næfre swiceþ.


Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith 
with princes; it is ever on its course 
over the mists of night and never fails.

Tiw/Tir is named for the Norse Aesir god Tyr, and the Norse and Icelandic poems talk about his attributes as god of victory and justice. The Anglo-Saxon poem takes a different angle, referring to the North Star (this rune pointing straight up is a metaphor for “true north”), another important guide for sailors, as well as hunters (both Vanic occupations – Njord is a master sailor, and many Vanir are associated with hunting and woodlands). There are also hints of the importance the Vanir (as well as the Aesir) place on trustworthiness, what in Norse is call mægen or honor.The North Star (currently Polaris) does not move in the Great Procession; all the other stars move around it, at least from the perspective of us on earth. As such, it can always be counted upon to show true north; similarly, to the Aesir and Vanir, keeping troth and word is vital to not only reputation, but the ability to build and maintain frith.



Beorc

Beorc byþ bleda leas, bereþ efne swa ðeah
tanas butan tudder, biþ on telgum wlitig,
heah on helme hrysted fægere,
geloden leafum, lyfte getenge.


The birch/poplar bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers,
for it is generated from its leaves.
Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned
its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.

The birch tree is a major Northern Tradition plant, commonly seen in Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and Saami/indigenous cultural herbology as a purifier. The Finnish saunas use birch twigs as a means of stimulating blood flow and cleansing of both the space and the people within; in Celtic and Germanic cultures, birch twigs were often cut in early spring and brought inside to bloom, thus blessing and warding the house. The birch is also one of the trees, along with the ash and oak, that usually comprise sacred groves, which are commonly associated with the Vanic cultus as well as the Finno-Ugric civilization (the Aesic cultus, of Indo-European origins, was more temple-oriented)



Eh

Eh byþ for eorlum æþelinga wyn,
hors hofum wlanc, ðær him hæleþ ymb[e]
welege on wicgum wrixlaþ spræce
and biþ unstyllum æfre frofur.


The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors.
A steed in the pride of its hoofs,
when rich men on horseback bandy words about it;
and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless.

There is a common saying that the dog is man’s best friend. However, in the millennia before the medieval and modern eras, no animal was more important to humankind than the horse. The horse provided food, skins for clothing and shelter, transportation, increased ranges in territory and hunting/foraging and great power in battle. Beyond the practical, however, there is an almost spiritual symbiosis between humans and horses – ask any horse owner, and they will tell you of that connection. The most famous horse in the Northern tradition is actually a Jotun – Sleipnir, child of Loki – but the tribe of Gods with the greatest connection to horses is the Vanir. Frey, though he rides a boar, has a horse, Blóðughófi (Bloody-hoof) and is strongly linked with horses in the Sagas (such as the horse Freyfaxi, which was dedicated to him by Rafnkel Freysgodi, and the horses of Throndheim). Holda is said to ride a horse when she leads the Wild Hunt. Historically, the domestication of the horse and the time of its greatest importance were the Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras, the time when the Vanic cultus was most likely the strongest and most wide-spread. However, the Aesic Indo-European culture could never have spread as far as it did without their own mastery of the horse, for which the Scythians and Goths in particular were renowned.


Mann

Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof:
sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican,
forðum drihten wyle dome sine
þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan.


The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen;
yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,
since the Lord by his decree 

will commit the vile carrion to the earth.

In many ways, this rune reflects and focuses the other “human” runes of gyfu, eðel and wynn, as the poem depicts. One who has much Wynn will certainly be more amenable to the process of Gyfu, because the miserable are not prone to giving or building frith, and a generous and joyful man raises the reputation of his Eðel and family, thus making him “dear to his kinsmen.” Even though the second half of the poem is Christian in basis, you can still see in it a reminder, as with all things Vanic, that there are two sides to the coin – Light and Dark, Joy and Sadness, Life and Death – and we are all doomed to die, that others might live in our places, one part of the cycle that we are still in thrall to, regardless of our deeds.


Lagu

Lagu byþ leodum langsum geþuht,
gif hi sculun neþan on nacan tealtum
and hi sæyþa swyþe bregaþ
and se brimhengest bridles ne gym[eð].


The ocean seems interminable to men,
if they venture on the rolling bark
and the waves of the sea terrify them
and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle.

While the Old English word lagu is cognate with Latin lacu “lake,” the poem describes the largest lake of all – the ocean. However, this depiction of the ocean is much different from the one for Siegl, though it uses many of the same words. This is the terrifying storm, the devouring hurricane, the Sea that threatens to tear the boat apart and swallow all within. Njord, being a sailor himself, knows well the power of the sea, and is on good terms with the Nine Undines and Ran herself, for which they allow him to calm their storms on occasion.


Ing

Ing wæs ærest mid East-Denum
gesewen secgun, oþ he siððan est
ofer wæg gewat; wæn æfter ran;
ðus Heardingas ðone hæle nemdun.


Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes,
till, followed by his chariot,
he departed eastwards over the waves.
So the Heardingas named the hero.

The Anglo-Saxon poem for the Ing rune tells us the story of Yng, the eponymous ancestor of the Ynglings, a royal family of medieval Sweden (and later, Denmark), and who was probably either an avatar of Frey, or Frey himself. The obviously Vanic symbol of the wain (wæn) is the main focus here, though it is interesting that the tale has him coming and going from the east, when Vanaheim is traditionally to the west (as Celtic lands are to the west of Teutonic ones); however, if one looks at it from the perspective of the Anglo-Saxons, the East is Geatland (as opposed to the West-Danes of Denmark and the Danelaw), and Sweden, two of the major Vanic regions in Scandinavia.


Éðel

Eþel byþ oferleof æghwylcum men,
gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena on
brucan on bolde bleadum oftast.


An estate is very dear to every man,
if he can enjoy there in his house
whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

Family and estate (Othala or Edhel) was very important in ancient times, because not only were you the product of your ancestors, the whole family’s mægen, hamingja and orløg rested in your hands. Yet family meant more than the blood relationships. Before the Industrial Revolution and subsequent urbanization of much of western civilization in the modern era, family meant land – the land where your fathers and mothers were born, lived, and died, with few exceptions. Land also meant all the various spirits that must be propitiated – the crops, the wild and domesticated herbs, the earth itself, the house spirits, the trees and rocks, and everything else that was necessary to “enjoy … whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity,” a topic we have already discussed as being greatly important to the Vanir.


Dæg

Dæg byþ drihtnes sond, deore mannum,
mære metodes leoht, myrgþ and tohiht
eadgum and earmum, eallum brice.


Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord;
it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor,
and of service to all.

Like Sigel, Dæg is about the light of Sunna. But where Sigel is the Light being useful (and with connotations of victory given its similarity to sig), Dæg is the new day, the bright beginning, since dæg can also mean dawn. This is the rune of the Second Chance, the ability to start anew, to make this day worth living regardless of what happened before. Many ancient cultures did not view time with the obsession of past-future that we do; instead, each day was taken as is (hence the need for daily auguries, to determine what the best use of the day was to be). One of the lessons the Vanir teach is to take each thing that comes as it comes, stopping our mad rush into the future to stop and enjoy the sensations of the now, whether those be chocolate, good food, better sex, or even just watching a spider spin a web.

The next five runes are unique to the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Frisian systems, and are attested in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem.
Ác

Ac byþ on eorþan elda bearnum
flæsces fodor, fereþ gelome
ofer ganotes bæþ; garsecg fandaþ
hwæþer ac hæbbe æþele treowe.


The oak fattens for the children of menthe flesh of pigs, often it traverses 
the gannet’s bath; and the ocean proves 
whether the oak keeps faith in honorable fashion.

The oak is another sacred tree among many of Europe’s ancient peoples – the Greeks attributed it to Zeus; the Celts named it as the special tree of the Dagda. There is a specific oak forest in Northern lore that is well-known – the Iron Wood of Angrboda and the Jotnar. Yet the oak is also sacred to the Vanir, both as the tree itself (useful for shipbuilding and making homes from) and as the major source of food for the Vanir’s most attributed animal, the boar.


Æsc

Æsc biþ oferheah, eldum dyre
stiþ on staþule, stede rihte hylt,
ðeah him feohtan on firas monige.


The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men.
With its sturdy trunk it offers a stubborn resistance,
though attacked by many a man.

The fourth in the futhorc, the ash tree is the traditional representative of the World Tree (switching with the yew); however, it was also a favored wood in the production of spears and polearms, the major weapons of the masses before the invention of smelting. The poem also refers to another usage – many shields were made of ash, being cheaper and easier to work than the harder oak. While such blatant militarism might seem anathema to the common understanding of the Vanir, one need only remember that they were winning in the war against the Aesir, and that many of the Vanir probably would not have had swords, to understand how this tree might be well-loved in Vanaheim, beyond its usefulness in non-military contexts. Although this rune closely resembles the Ós rune and its Elder Futhark ancestor, Ansuz, it may have evolved independently. However the fact that Yggdrasil, the world tree (upon which Odin, the god most associated with Ós rune, sacrificed himself) was reputedly an Ash tree, makes the connection of this rune with the Ós/Ansuz rune a strong possibility - not to mention the linguistic similarity.


Yr

Yr byþ æþelinga and eorla gehwæs
wyn and wyrþmynd, byþ on wicge fæger,
fæstlic on færelde, fyrdgeatewa sum.


Yr is for every prince and knight a source
of joy and honor; it looks well on a horse, 
and is a reliable equipment for a journey.

If any of the Vanir resonate with this rune, it is Ullr, since Yr’s glyph is the hunter’s bow. The poem speaks of the many uses that bows have – sport (the source of joy and honor among nobility), war (mounted bowmen are a very powerful force), and survival in the wilderness (for both food and protection). The concept that Yr speaks to, and Ullr also teaches, is the power in focus, but not the focus of a camera, or the loose sort of focus most of us give to something we’re doing. This is the focus of the Hunter, of the Artist, of the Craftsman – the pouring of oneself into the moment, when everything falls away but the task at hand. Yr calls us to remember that focus, and apply it to the everyday, whether that be in the home, at work, or in our relationships with human and divine.


Ior

Iar byþ eafix and ðeah a bruceþ
fodres on foldan, hafaþ fægerne eard
wætre beworpen, ðær he wynnum leofaþ.


Iar is a river fish and yet it always 
feeds on land; it has a fair abode 
encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness.

The normal translation of Ior is an eel, though the description may actually be that of a crocodilian or similar species (which may also be the basis of the European dragon legends). Some have postulated that the river-fish "Ior" in question is actually Jormungandr, the Midgard Serpent, though the poem certainly paints a much different picture of it than is normally the case if that is true. This rune probably represents being content and at home in one's surroundings, and being well-adapted to the current circumstances. Notice that if you cut off the "tail" of this rune, it resembles the rune Hagall in the Younger Futhark and Armanen Futharkh - in which it is considered a positive rune of motherly nurturing and protection against calamity. This is likely not coincidental, for the prophesied death of the Midgard Serpent in Ragnarok is also the beginning of a new age of rebirth for Midgard itself.


Ear

Ear byþ egle eorla gehwylcun,
ðonn[e] fæstlice flæsc onginneþ,
hraw colian, hrusan ceosan
blac to gebeddan; bleda gedreosaþ,
wynna gewitaþ, wera geswicaþ.


The grave is horrible to every knight,
when the corpse quickly begins to cool
and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth.
Prosperity declines, happiness passes away
and covenants are broken.

Ear is the grave or the grave-marker, and deals with the duality of nature; as there is life and growth, so is there decay and decline. Many people view the Vanir, especially the most well-known ones, as merely being gods of life and fertility, peace and happiness. While that is certainly part of what they are, it is not all of it, especially for the older Vanir who are more primal and Jotun-like. Tacitus tells of the bloody nature of Nerthus’ rites; Holda is said in folklore to steal children and eat them. Njord can calm the storms, but also can deny harbor to ships, dooming them to the rocks. Not only are their natures involved with death, their very life cycle is dependent on it. Life cannot live without death; the seed must die to grow. Frey goes to Hela every year to ensure that life continues, not knowing if she will allow him to return this time. Nerthus kills her own son every year in the name of death. Gullveig was willing to die and be reborn three times. The Vanir understand and embrace the importance of death, of the slow rotting and falling away, because without it, they could not exist as they do.

The following four runes, from the expanded Anglo-Saxon Futhorc of Northumbria, are not present in more southerly saxon realms in England or the Anglo-Frisian/continental variants of the rune row, and are not included in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem; their status as distinctly separate runes is contested (for example, Cweorð may possibly be an alternate form or derivation from Peorð). I have included them anyway, because I feel there are certain lessons that they have to share, regardless of their origins. You will notice that they can loosely correspond with the four elements of Wicca and Neo-paganism, as well as the four suits of the Tarot.


Cweorð Fire-twirl

Cweorð is the Rune of Fire, but not the illuminating fire of Cen or the saving warmth of Nyd – this is the Pyre, the Wildfire that destroys homes and forests (of which we have seen much of in recent years). Though many of the other runes speak of destruction and death, none quite top this one. Cweorð teaches the lesson of Fire as Purifier – destruction of the old, the worn-out, the no-longer-useful to make way for the new, the way woodlands and prairies need occasional destruction to remain healthy. The very reason that this has been such a problem in recent years in the outer world is that we have decided we know better than nature, and have allowed deadbrush to build up through “overprotection” - by stopping smaller fires or otherwise inhibiting the natural processes. The Vanir, however, understand the necessity of that destruction, and urge those who would follow them to be open to the Pyre, to not repress and ignore those things we do not like, to not let them fester and build up, but instead give them up to the purifying flame.


Calc Cup

Another rune linked with water, Calc (and its alternate form, the starburst-like Kalc) speaks of reflection, of looking inward, of containing the free flow of Lagu into something useful. It can be the scrying bowl, the mirror pool in which answers are sought. But it can also be the peace-cup that is shared among friends and former enemies; the cauldron of Ægir comes to mind, as well as the story of Kvasir and the mead of Poetry. There is a danger, though, in relying too much on reflection, in that the person most easily deceived is oneself; divination is not set in stone, nor can peace be maintained without work. The converse of this is a symbol well-known in later European mythology – the Holy Cup, the Grail. This aspect of Calc is the idealism that fuels passion, that starts pilgrimages, that calls people to a higher cause and path. But just as the illumination of Cen can be twisted in Calc’s depths, so too can that idealism be hollow and without foundation. Calc is very powerful, but care must be taken that one does not fall into the trap of thinking its shallows are deeper than they seem.


Stan Stone

The very word stone brings to mind many qualities – rigid, steadfast, hard, grounded, immovable, secure, guarding, strong. Stones can make walls, homes, weapons; they can also be dangerous – sailors fear the embrace of the rocks, where the breakers are, because just a brush can wreck a hull beyond repair. Even far from the sea, rocks can be troublesome, if they are in the field one is trying to plow. Mountains are obstacles to be climbed or passed around; caves and tunnels are deep depths that can collapse on the unwary. All of the Northumbrian runes have their dangers, and Stan is no exception. But the major lesson that Stan has for us is the strength and power of steadfastness – loyalty in word and deed, perseverance in hardship, protection of the weak, resolve in the pursuit of frith – all the qualities that the Vanir hold dear. This, above else, is the focus of Vanic virtues; just as an arch cannot stand without the keystone, so do all the other runes mean less without the steadfastness and grounding of Stan.


Gar Spear (Odin’s spear Gungnir)

If Peorð is the rune of personal wyrd, Gar is the rune of Universal Wyrd, of the Well itself, the Great Tangle of Life. While the rune is named for Oðin's spear, which could decide the fate of battles, the glyph itself looks like a spider’s web, signifying the interconnectedness of all life and individual wyrd that make up the Whole (in some forms  of Gar, there is a complete square or rhombus in the center of the rune). That weaving in and out, the way that all strands of the web affect the others, is vitally important in this day and age, and the Vanir are well aware of that. We have long been disconnected from the cycles of Life and Death, and rampant individualism is the mantra of Western civilization; the Vanir teach us that such concepts are anathema to both our health and the health of the world, that cutting ourselves off from the source of Life only leads to sickness and disease, the effects of which are well-advanced in modern culture.


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